Politics & Government

North Carolina’s HBCUs should get equitable funding, state black leaders say

[This story was corrected May 16, 2019 to reflect current HBCU enrollment figures.]

Xavier Jones is in graduate school at N.C. Central University in Durham, one of five public historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, in North Carolina.

From High Point, Jones also went to NCCU for undergrad, which he chose because, among other things, he liked its motto: “Truth and Service.”

But the reason for picking an HBCU was personal.

“I decided to go to an HBCU so I could find myself, and truly learn my history,” Jones said Wednesday after a news conference at the state legislature that called for equitable funding of HBCUs.

Legislative Black Caucus members, Common Cause NC and others are pushing for equitable funding for HBCUs.

Sen. Erica D. Smith, a Democrat who represents multiple northeastern counties, said that for the state’s HBCUs to be sustainable, there needs to be adequate funding.

Senate Bill 667 calls for $50 million in recurring funding for 10 HBCUs in the state, half public and half private, to close disparities with funding of non-HBCUs. It also calls for $7.5 million for N.C. A&T State University’s doctoral program.

With more than 12,000 students enrolled this year, N.C. A&T in Greensboro is the largest HBCU in the U.S. and awards the most undergraduate engineering degrees to African Americans, according to the university. N.C. A&T also awards the most math and statistics master’s degrees to African American graduates. [This has been corrected to reflect current enrollment numbers.]

Sen. Gladys A. Robinson, a Guilford County Democrat, said North Carolina Senate leader Phil Berger told her the $7.5 million in funding would be in the proposed Senate budget, which will be released by the end of May. It was not in the House budget.

Smith said she hopes the A&T funding is “not the carrot that gets moved” when the House and Senate hash out the final budget.

“A&T is the largest HBCU in the nation, and it’s time we celebrate that flagship,” Smith said. She received her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from N.C. A&T.

N.C. Sen. Erica D. Smith talks about making HBCUs funding more equitable during a Legislative Black Caucus press conference on May 15, 2019 at the state legislature in Raleigh. Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan dvaughan@newsobserver.com

Black Caucus leaders also want Senate Bill 640, which would require a minimum match of federal funds to support agricultural research and cooperative extension programs.

In 2019, U.S. News & World Report ranked N.C. A&T seventh in top HBCUs in the country, tied with Claflin University in Orangeburg, S.C., which is a private school. Its rival, NCCU, was listed 10th.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan covers North Carolina state government and politics at The News & Observer. She previously covered Durham for 13 years, and has received six North Carolina Press Association awards, including a 2018 award for investigative reporting.